Police are paying “insufficient attention” to the “quality and relevance” of the information they provide to the CPS when preparing case files, hampering the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system, a joint report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) published this week has found.
In a review of 180 contested case files from six forces, the inspectors found that police reports sent to CPS prosecutors are still “frequently missing important details, or being ‘overbuilt’ with material or evidence that is not needed”, despite such problems being highlighted by a National Audit Office report in 2011.
Frontline Police Officers
The Inspectors said:
“This reflects a considerable lack of understanding amongst frontline police officers of the importance and relevance of the information they are providing to the prosecutor.”
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Drusilla Sharpling, said:
“Good-quality information secures just outcomes for defendants, victims and witnesses, but our joint review found a considerable lack of understanding among frontline officers of the importance and relevance of these records. Better supervision, training and quality assurance of case files will all help to address these issues, and ensure that court processes delayed or impeded by poor quality or irrelevant information.”
Sensitive information is being wrongly included in prosecution case files – such as victims’ and witnesses’ addresses – because police officers are routinely “copying and pasting” chunks of official reports, the inspection found. The review into the quality of prosecution case files warned this kind of shortcut can lead to “extremely grave” mistakes after it found confidential information being included in police reports.
The Inspectors said:
“This is an extremely grave error, because the information could be given to a defence team as part of the advance disclosure process. This matter should be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
However, HMIC and HMCPSI admitted the use of copy and paste was “unsurprising” as police prepare both the police report and the police request for a charging decision, which are then submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and both contain similar information.
It also found some examples of vital information being left out. In one case, a woman had been hit on the head by her step-father and the police report summary described it as a “minor assault and that there were no visible injuries”. But when inspectors looked at the victim’s statement, they found that she suffered from a brain condition that required fluid to be drained from her brain through a shunt, and that her statement also indicated that this violence had happened on many previous occasions – information that would have been regarded as an aggravating feature in the court case.
Overall, case files prepared for court are too often completed as a “tickbox exercise”, HMIC and HMCPSI said.
Javed Khan, Chief Executive of charity Victim Support, said:
“Victims deserve to know that their personal information will be handled correctly and sensitively. It is unacceptable then that confidential details are being inadvertently revealed to the defence through human error. It can take a lot of courage for victims to come forward, and this slapdash lack of care and quality assurance does not suggest that is recognised or respected enough by some within the criminal justice system.”